Friday, October 6, 2017

How many miles to Babylon?

Nursery rhymes. The first tidbits of old lore and Fairyland we learn as children, often from Mother Goose. Everything from "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", "Doctor Foster", "Humpty Dumpty", "Jack and Jill", "Little Boy Blue", "London Bridge Is Falling Down", "Mary Had a Little Lamb ", "Old King Cole", "Ring a Ring o' Roses", "Rock-a-bye Baby", "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe", and "Three Blind Mice".
Yet there are some nursery rhymes filled with a more primal, deep power, invoking a sense of mystery. Include one that appears in the novel Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones (who of course uses it in an unforgettable scene that sticks out even by her top-tier standards) as well as in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Indeed, while my father and I have read countless books together, from the best of Fantasy to other such masterworks as Tolstoy's War and Peace and Shakespeare's Hamlet, we still remember that night from Deep Secret. We still judge the time Jones took us to Babylon as one of our collective literary high points. If I ever write a Tale of Faerie, I swear that I shall use them myself.

How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
If you feet are speedy and light
You can get there by candlelight.


Where is the road to Babylon?
Right beside your door.
Can I walk that way whenever I want?
No, three times and no more.
If you mark the road and measure it right
You can go there by candlelight.


What shall I take to Babylon?
A handful of salt and grain,
Water, some wool for warmth on the way,
And a candle to make the road plain.
If you carry these things and use them right
You can be there by candlelight.


How do I go to Babylon?
Outside of here and there.
Am I crossing a bridge or climbing a hill?
Yes, both before you're there.
If you follow outside of day and night
You can be there by candlelight.


How hard is the road to Babylon?
As hard as grief or greed.
What do I ask for when I get there?
Only for what you need.
If you travel in need and travel light,
you can get there by candlelight.


How long is the way to Babylon?
Three score years and ten.
Many have gone to Babylon
But few come back again.
If your feet are nimble and light,
You can be back by candlelight.

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